TORONTO – A man with schizophrenia acted as a “terrorist group of one” when he attacked soldiers at a military recruitment centre in Toronto, federal prosecutors said as they argued the 30-year-old should be found not criminally responsible for terror offences rather than having the charges dismissed.
Crown and defence lawyers agree that, as a result of serious mental illness, Ayanle Hassan Ali could not appreciate his actions were morally wrong when he slashed at Canadian Forces personnel with a kitchen knife on May 14, 2016, leaving at least two soldiers with minor injuries.
But the two sides disagree on whether Ali should be facing terror charges.
The Crown argues that while Ali should be found not criminally responsible for his actions, he did commit a terrorist act and the court’s verdict should reflect that.
“Despite his illness, Ali understood the nature and quality of his actions and understood that they were legally wrong,” Crown attorneys Kathleen Healy and Sarah Egan wrote in legal arguments filed at the man’s trial this week.
“He intentionally attempted to kill (Canadian Forces personnel) in part for a religious, political or ideological purpose, objective or cause, and in part with the intention of intimidating the public or a segment of the public.”
The defence, however, has asked for an acquittal on the terror offences and a ruling of not criminally responsible on lesser included offences. That type of finding acknowledges that a person with a mental illness committed a crime but was incapable at the time of appreciating their actions could cause harm, or are unacceptable by societal standards.
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Ali has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder, three counts of assault with a weapon, two counts of assault causing bodily harm and one count of carrying a weapon for the purpose of committing an offence, all “at the direction of or in association with” a terrorist group.
Defence lawyers Nader Hasan and Maureen Addie have argued that Ali is not a terrorist, but a man in need of mental health treatment. He should be found not criminally responsible for lesser included charges of attempted murder, assault and weapons offences, they have said.
The defence has further argued that Ali, who both sides acknowledge was not affiliated with any terrorist group, cannot be guilty of terror offences, because Canadian terror law “does not apply to alleged one-person terrorist groups.”
The Crown, however, has argued that the Criminal Code states both that a terrorist group is any “entity” that facilitates or carries out terrorist activity and that a person can be considered an entity.
It would be “antithetical to the purpose of terrorism legislation that an individual carrying out a solo attack could escape the terrorism provision of the Criminal Code,” the Crown said in their written arguments.
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Ali’s lawyers have noted that Ali will end up in custody at a secure mental health facility whether he is found not criminally responsible on the terror charges or the lesser included offences.
“Terrorism is such a loaded term and … we worry that if he is in the system as not criminally responsible for terrorism, that might unfairly affect how he is treated,” Hasan has said.
Two psychiatrists have testified at Ali’s trial that he was experiencing delusions and paranoia brought on by schizophrenia around the time of the attack. They both said Ali should be found not criminally responsible.
Dr. Philip Klassen, a Crown witness, testified that Ali likely understood that his actions could cause physical harm. But, because of his mental illness, Ali likely did not realize that harming soldiers in that situation was morally wrong, Klassen said.
Ali is still “somewhat ambivalent” about the morality of killing soldiers, Klassen said. But that could be a sign that Ali is still grappling with the effects of schizophrenia, he added.
Ali will return to court Friday, with the defence and Crown expected to present further legal arguments.